Beloved swim coach and international reggae star Oswald "Trevor" Roper, 59, longtime resident of Chicago’s North Shore and formerly of Kingston, Jamaica, passed away on Jan. 2, surrounded by family and friends, after a courageous battle with cancer. In addition to his children, Mr. Roper’s passions were swimming and music – and he was fortunate to succeed in all of these areas.
Known as Trevor to many, but as "Oz" in the swimming world, Mr. Roper touched the lives of literally thousands of swimmers – children, teens and adults – as an instructor and coach with the YWCA Evanston/North Shore Flying Fish program for the past 19 years. He also taught aqua aerobics and swim classes at Michigan Shores Club in Wilmette, and with private groups. People recall Oz as a dedicated teacher, in the water or pacing along the deck laughing, splashing, teasing and goading his students to do better. "Oz always prioritized the kids," said Pete Caragher, YWCA aquatics director, "and he always seemed happiest when he was working with them." Mr. Roper stated in an October 2011 YWCA article, "… I love it. I get so much satisfaction out of helping kids build morale and emerge as winners, not necessarily by winning races but by setting goals for themselves and accomplishing them."
When Mr. Roper started teaching swimming in the United States, he compared it to Jamaica, where he described learning to swim as a "prerequisite for life. But in the U.S.," he continued, "There is a history of exclusion that keeps many African American children from the water. I find this so sad because we live beside a lake that could be as much fun as the beaches in Jamaica, but you don’t see many African American families at the beach. I am glad we are working to change that, and I can see the results already in our great YWCA Flying Fish Program." The YWCA Flying Fish program has an active outreach program and has provided thousands of swimming scholarships in an ongoing commitment to ensure that every child in Evanston has the opportunity to learn to swim.
Mr. Roper’s career as a swim teacher began when he participated in an exchange program in Canada. He subsequently ran the Jamaica Red Cross Learn-to-Swim Program that supported all of the primary and high schools in Kingston. He also worked for the Ministry of Health and for the School of Physical Therapy.
At 25, he began to follow his passion for music. He was influenced by his grandmother, who supervised at the Kingston Institute for the Blind where Mr. Roper had learned as a child to sing and played with blind musicians who made their own instruments. In 1980, Mr. Roper and seven friends formed the band Chalice. He was lead singer and played guitar and he and his band performed in Europe, Mexico, Turkey and the Caribbean. The band was featured at such major venues as the annual Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica.
The last show he played with Chalice was at a 1992 New Year’s Eve concert with Vanilla Ice and Laura Brannigan on the Cayman Islands. On Jan. 1, 1993, he flew to Chicago, knowing about its great music scene. Throughout his 20 years in the area, Mr. Roper continued playing and recording his music. In the fall of 2012, he sat with numerous groups of friends and played a selection of songs he had just written. Everyone was grateful for the chance to hear his new music.
Mr. Roper is survived by three brothers: Barry Roper of Florida, Phillips and Patrick Roper, both of Jamaica, and six children: Tamara Roper of Florida, Kamala Roper of New York, Nathalie Roper Scotto of New Jersey, and Nigel, Jazmin, and Saylor Roper, all of Indiana, as well as by eight grandchildren.
Memorial arrangements have not yet been determined. In lieu of flowers, Mr. Roper’s wish was for support for Learn-to-Swim scholarships benefitting underserved children. Donations can be sent to the OZ Trust Fund, c/o Lisa Altenbernd, 2662 Orrington Ave., Evanston, IL 60201.